As this Summer sees another downpour of important super-hero blockbusters, this review takes us back to a time when they were not so frequently the case. Indeed back in 2000 when X-Men was released, it caused intrigue as to whether or not the film would be good enough to be taken seriously by the film-going public. A dozen years later, how does the film bear up?
The film introduces viewers to a world that is coming to terms with the presence of mutant beings among the regular human beings. Facing such an advance on humanity and with so many unknown factors, humanity understandably reacts ina defensive way. Meanwhile among the mutant community there are two branches of thought – one that seeks to work alongside humanity and get them to view mutants in a way that’s no different to themselves. This is lead by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). To this end he has built a special school for the gifted that is actually a safe haven for young mutants to be in an environment where their powers/gifts can be harnessed and channelled properly as the individuals themselves are being taught to engage positively and progressively in the world around them.
Of course as there is a force that seeks the best outcome, so there are those who view things very differently and in Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants there is a group of mutants who see the only way forward as establishing the mutants as being in charge of humans and overcoming opposition to the mutants wherever it maybe. Magneto’s ire is further deepened by childhood experiences of concentration camps and being separated from his parents by the brutal dictatorship.
The focus of the story is seen in the introduction of Rogue (Anna Paquin) a young mutant whose particular power sees her drain the energy of anyone she comes in contact with, which leaves her in the precarious position of never being able to touch or kiss or hold anyone. She comes across a fellow mutant called Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who has the regenerative abilities helping him stay alive a long time as he’s able to overcome most injuries. He also has a skeleton cloaked in the strongest metal known to man called adamantium. They are caught in the struggle between Magneto and Xavier as the former looks to capture Rogue.
The human concern expressed in repressive extremes in portrayed by Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) and his particular take on being against mutants puts him in the firing line for the likes of Magneto awho uses him as a guinea pig for his greater plans for the advancement of his cause. The story of this film looks at how those who have been under Xavier – known as the X-Men – combat the plans of Magneto, especially when Professor X is temporarily put out of action.
I can understand why people enjoyed the movie back in the day. There’s a lot to enjoy. The themes of the story in terms of being different and being accepted in society and how changes in society can affect our hold on things like the preciousness of individuality and what it is to be free from the judgement of others, etc. Those themes are explored well and it shows the power of storytelling that was there even in the comics. There are one or two quality action set-pieces and there is intrigue in the different powers on display and how they contribute to the story’s development.
Great effort was made to not make the film come across as too much like a comic book, and in this they succeed. The feel of the film is something that takes the audience seriously as people who want to watch a film they want to enjoy, not just a camp, sloppy, silly imitation of the comic books (pity Joel Schumacher never took that on board for his Batman films). What helps with that is some quality performances from Stewart and especially McKellen. It would be easy for the villain of the piece to over-act and play up his role, but McKellen plays it straight. You are engaging with a principled antagonist who is not a ‘bad guy’ but actually someone who sees that his only way of progress is to defend what is his to the ultimate end, and is willing to pay any price to make it happen.
Jackman’s performance is the break out one because he nails Wolverine virtually spot on. Yet, a slight criticism, could be that although it’s called X-Men it acts more as a vehicle to establish Wolverine as a big deal in the super-hero world. So not only is the viewer taken through the narrative predominantly through Wolverine, but everything as a result goes through him somewhat to the detriment of other characters. Cyclops (James Marsden) doesn’t come across as all that other than a foil for Wolverine in their joint love of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).
Another huge loser in the mix is Storm (Halle Berry) who appears as a rather token gesture character, by which I mean there’s no real deep substance to her character, there’s no reason to care that much about her. That’s worsened by some of the worst lines given to a major character in a super hero movie. (Don’t ask what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightening.) The other mildly annoying character in the piece is Rogue who is only saved by the fact that she has a significant role to play in the telling of the story, otherwise, she’s just annoying. Mystique comes off well with her regular shape-shifting and her interaction with Wolverine. Other than that the characters are rather hit and miss, mostly miss.
It is not a long film, and that’s a good thing, because beyond the story it needs to tell, it doesn’t have to stretch the point, and the story has enough to keep interest. In a way it bears up to its credentials as a super-hero film, yet it’s also fair to say it has been surpassed in terms of quality by a number of subsequent super hero films including the Nolan Batman films to date, Iron Man and most recently rather severely trounced in quality by the Avengers film. For those who like a good super-hero film, though, it’s always worth going back to this one from time to time.